How the candidate for Russia’s presidency altered her social media strategy to prove the seriousness of her campaign
A month ago, Russian celebrity and television personality Kseniya Sobchak launched her candidacy for the presidential elections in her country to be held on March 18, 2018. Sobchak announced her campaign with a YouTube video. Since the announcement, her campaign, which maintains a focus on social media, advanced.
Some in Russia argued that Sobchak’s campaign is a ploy designed to split opposition to Vladimir Putin, @DFRLab continued to compare and contrast the Sobchak campaign social media content, as its substance and audience remain a good indicator of the seriousness of the Sobchak candidacy.
On November 13, Sobchak published a video calling for advertisers to put their commercials on her social media channels.
The video mentions the large audience her Instagram and Twitter accounts maintain as a result of Sobchak’s celebrity. The appeal to advertisers suggest social media plays a crucial role in Sobchak’s presidential campaign.
The most influential social media account Sobchak has is Instagram. Though the increase in her audience correlated to her entry in the presidential contest is insignificant, her recent posts increased in average likes by a third and almost doubled the average number of comments.
The most popular posts she published focused on Sobchak’s family. The first four posts show her infant son, who turned one year old on November 18, 2016. This content was decidedly nonpolitical and unrelated to her campaign.
In comparison, the posts about her presidential campaign (videos mostly) generated 1.1 million views and 3,700 comments on average, which is almost as much as her lifestyle posts.
Therefore, the historical popularity of her Instagram profile helps get attention to her presidential campaign.
Facebook & Twitter
Sobchak’s second largest social media account measured by the audience size remained Facebook. Nothing much changed in the profile since the campaign announcement. The profile kept its profile image, though changed its cover photo. However, the followers of the page increased by 4.5 percent since its entry into politics.
Most recently Sobchak started to post original content that portrays her life and campaign. Nevertheless, posts on Sobchak’s Facebook profile seem to be integrated with her Twitter and Instagram accounts. At least ten posts on November 21 were posted on Twitter within a few minutes of each other. The posts were about her candidate expert discussion broadcasted on YouTube.
While it does not seem that Facebook plays a central role in Sobchak’s campaign, her campaign strategy on Twitter has changed.
Her personal Twitter account @xenia_sobchak, which was inactive since August, was reinvigorated and now posts content regularly to 1.66 million followers. Whereas, the Twitter account created explicitly for her campaign, @sobchak_protiv, was deleted. A new account for the campaign was created on November 3.
The number of tweets and follower count for the existing and new accounts appears to be organic and lacking automated promotion. Nevertheless, the engagement with the account is small. At the moment this report was created, the campaign’s account had less then 1.5 thousand followers.
The campaign strategy on Russian Facebook alternative VKontakte (VK) changed, as well. The VK page mentioned in @DFRLab’s previous reporting was transformed into a public page for Sobchak’s team of volunteers.
Another public VK page was created for everyone who follows Sobchak’s campaign. The page has a following three times larger than the page for volunteers.
Sobchak’s YouTube channel has grown the most since her candidacy, in comparison with her other social media accounts. Prior to the campaign announcement, her YouTube channel had one video and 4,400 subscribers. Now it has 58 videos and over 34 thousand subscribers.
The most viewed video remained her candidacy announcement. The second most popular video is a satirical video, in which it looks like Putin is singing “Happy Birthday” to Sobchak. The satire had half of the views the candidacy announcement video enjoyed. In the third most popular video, Sobchak expressed her attitude against behavior of policemen in Russia.
On November 11, Sobchak released a video that launched another online channel Ya Protiv (I am against).
In the video, she mentioned a campaign diary to document her activities. She also mentioned her debates with other presidential candidates and their supporters. The channel will also publish videos with Russian political analyst and communication specialist Stanislav Belkovsky. Finally, she encouraged people to ask her questions that she will answer directly.
In the end of the video she said:
We will do videos and announcements every day. Video stories and shows. We want you to be with us the whole time. We won’t have any secrets in our campaign. We want to became one of you, so you come in March and vote for yours(elf)? — for us. For me, against everyone else.
The announcement about her YouTube channel explained why this social media account has grown six times in a month.
Below is the change of Sobchak’s follower count across five social media platforms.
Citizen engagement attempt faces provocation
Apart from the attempts to grow audience and engage prospective voters on social media, Sobchak tried to get more supporters by participating in a rally to save European University in St. Petersburg on November 11. According to BBC Russia, despite being invited by the organizers, some of the students who attended booed Sobchak during her speech.
BBC Russia quoted the event organizer and Professor of Art History Ilya Doronchenkov, who said:
At first I was very surprised and even angry when I saw a Sobchak’s video, then I thought that “hype” would not hurt.
The video Doronchenkov mentioned was published on November 9 on Sobchak’s YouTube channel.
In the video, Doronchenkov called on citizens to join the rally.
A video published on NevexTV’s YouTube channel (136K followers) showed what happened during Sobchak’s speech at the rally.
While the presidential candidate was giving her speech, a few students were blowing whistles and shouting “Shame!”. Video showed the negative sentiment did not take over the whole crowd. Some women even tried to stop the youngsters.
Sobchak commented on the incident and said:
It was a deliberate provocation. We have learnt about it earlier today. There was a leak about it. But we came because I am not afraid of provocations. There will be more, and one needs to understand that this is the state of politics in our country.
Most of the Russian media reported Sobchak being booed during her speech.
The change in audience size on Sobchak’s social media channels happened because of some changes in her social media strategy on Twitter and VK in particular. Sobchak’s team put a lot of efforts to grow the engagement on campaign’s YouTube channel, while Instagram and Facebook audience grew only slightly bigger.
Open source evidence on Sobchak’s social media channels suggest that audience size grew organically, as did engage on Sobchak’s content.
Nika Aleksejeva is a Digital Forensic Research Associate at the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab (@DFRLab).
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